The game is shit. The thoughts behind the game are shit. The talk about the game is shit. Passage is such shit, it is second only to the Wii in caking shit into the very fabric of the mildly noble art of videogames.
If you were to ask me which video game I’ve played the most, I’d have to answer Everquest. It would be with a hint of embarrassment, like you just caught me in a devious trap. Everquest: that most reviled of video games, that most hated of subjects. You could probably find someone who claims Everquest ruined videogames, and you can definitely find people who say Everquest ruined their lives.
I loved it with a passion reserved for only my favorite games, though. It’s the game that most irrevocably shaped my gaming opinions. Its best feature was how it absolutely didn’t give a shit about you, and how that opened up possibilities: removed from the spotlight that younger sibling World of Warcraft would thrust on you, you were free to develop yourself, develop your story.
Developers spend a lot of time trying to make things as pretty as possible in videogames and sometimes that effort kind of misses the point. While fantastic visuals are easy to talk about in a preview or review — and translate well to short promotional videos and screenshots — they aren’t nearly as important as how a game actually feels. So subjective, but so important, the minute details of play contribute much more to how enjoyable a title is than any breathtaking vista or lovingly animated character.
Describing how this works is difficult (unless, I suppose, you create your own critical vocabulary), but is well worth the effort. It’s also essential that critics of any stripe point out good examples of videogames that just plain feel good to play.
This, I think, is the best way to start talking about Renegade Ops.
My Twitter feed this week has pretty much transformed into a Double Fine IV drip. Each day has given me a steady supply of information on the studio, first regarding Minecraft developer Markus “Notch” Persson offering to fund a Psychonauts sequel, and second, a Kickstarter campaign designed to let users fund a new, traditional adventure game. While the former development is currently being hashed out in private (or may be dead? I don’t know), the latter has reached a very public conclusion less than a day after its appearance: Double Fine will be making an adventure game again.
All of this begs the question of what kind of place a new entry to the antiquated genre — even one developed by some of the masters of the form — would have in today’s climate?
So here I am. Again. Judas in Sheol (that’s Hell), all his stats maxed, more than half a dozen hearts, enough followers to make Jesus blush. And here I go, dead in four rooms due to sheer, dumb luck. This time I’m killed by a floating eyeball leech, one that explodes. This was a statistically unlikely occurrence: the room had four Knights with Isaac’s face on the back, too, and a betting man would have put it to one of them to kill me.
Dead, killed by some strange monster in a horrible basement, there’s only one thing left for me to do: restart and try again. That is the nature of the genre.
I love a good boob as much as most (I even love a bad boob if it’s got character), but there are other things in the world that I can love as well. For example, avocados are nice. Let us also not forget the pleasure one gets from a game of badminton. All these are things that can get a rise out of me. However, if I were to ready myself for a tasty avocado treat and it was just an avocado — I’m talking just an avocado — I wouldn’t be upset (I don’t think) by its lack of cleavage. Indeed, it might make me suspicious if it did. “Where’d this avocado get these boobs?” I’d ask.
What I’m trying to say is I was just playing the game The Saboteur on my PS3.
What is the defining feature of Super Mario Brothers? Not in the boring terms of cultural cachet, but in the actually interesting terms of game design? What is it that sets SMB apart? We talk and wave our hands about, and mumble words of “gameplay” and “level design”, but what is the core, the glue, the absolute center around which they revolve? Does such a center even exist?
I propose that it does, and that it has a real name: Clear Visual Language.